27 March, 2009
The Hon. Bruce Golding
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Dear Mr. Golding,
Since its founding in 2001, the Calabash International Literary Festival has played a huge and invaluable role in promoting the work of Jamaican and Caribbean writers, and exposing new audiences to the region’s literary heritage. Calabash is now considered the major event on the Caribbean’s literary calendar, and is celebrated internationally not just for the calibre of the world-class writers who participate in the festival, but for its uniquely Jamaican energy and verve.
Further, by insisting that attendance at Calabash remain free, its organisers have ensured that Jamaicans from all backgrounds can participate. And the festival is a remarkable model for sustainable community-based tourism, with direct benefits to the people of Treasure Beach and the rest of St. Elizabeth.
It is shocking and deeply disappointing, therefore, to hear that the 2009 Calab ash Festival has been cancelled due to insufficient funding. The rewards of Calabash — to its audiences, to the region’s literary culture, and to Jamaica’s international reputation — far outstrip the financial costs of staging the festival. Jamaica, like many other countries, now faces difficult economic circumstances, and Jamaica’s leaders are forced to make difficult decisions about financial priorities. However, we respectfully suggest that allowing Calabash 2009 to be cancelled is not in the best short- or long-term financial interests of Jamaica.
It is impossible to quantify the Calabash Festival’s contribution to Caribbean literature, and to the promotion of books, reading and education. But a glance at the international press coverage of the festival over the last eight years, and at the numbers of foreign visitors in attendance, gives a sense of how effectively Calabash showcases Jamaica’s culture to the world. Most of all, Calabash has been an economic life line to the people of Treasure Beach and other communities in St. Elizabeth. They are the ones who will suffer most from its cancellation.
We the undersigned — writers, editors, publishers, and literary scholars from across the Caribbean and further afield — therefore urge you to reconsider how your government and its agencies can support Calabash 2009, in the hope that it is not too late for the festival to proceed as planned. We believe the question is not whether Jamaica can afford Calabash, but rather how Jamaica can afford to let it disappear. Now, more than ever, this cultural asset needs and deserves and will repay Jamaica’s investment